The first big-screen rendition of “21 Jump Street” came as a pleasant surprise. It took the kitschy ‘80s TV show and played up the absurdity of sending undercover cops to high school posing as students. Expectations were low, but the movie turned out pretty damn funny. Jonah Hill was hilarious, and Channing Tatum stole the show with his comic chops.
Catching lightning in a bottle is no easy task. Trying to generate 1.21 gigawatts of comedy with a second foray comes as an even more difficult feat. Luckily, the makers of “22 Jump Street” copy and paste the best parts of the first film and go meta on audiences, acknowledging sequels are creatively bankrupt propositions.
The plot presents a scenario that’s eerily similar to that of the first film; someone has developed a designer drug called “Why-Phy,” and dealers are distributing it on Metro City State University’s campus. Once a dead college student turns up, it becomes the responsibility of Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) to find the drug dealers and save the day.
Yes, it’s the exact same plot as the original, but college replaces high school. Yes, they openly address this in the movie. Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation”) returns to act as the audience’s voice, which lets characters know all viewers want is to see the same situation from the first film played out again. He instructs the characters: “Just do the same thing again.” The funny gag pops up throughout the film.
Jenko thrives in the college setting; he joins the football team, finds admiration from the student body and contemplates if becoming a cop was the right choice. Conversely, Schmidt fades into the background and sinks into a deep depression. Their friendship is once again tested by a seemingly unsolvable case. The plot is intentionally predictable and nothing more than an excuse for shenanigans; fortunately, those shenanigans are pretty amusing. Hill does awkward right, and Tatum has a gift for comedy that fascinates and baffles.
The end result isn’t as good as the original, but the movie still entertains enough to warrant recommendation. It works because of the chemistry its two stars possess. Hill and Tatum impress as a comic duo; they’re like Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello except a lot more homoerotic. It’s funny and it works.
I never really thought comedic duos had a strong sexual subtext. I wasn’t sensing throbbing passion watching Martin and Lewis. I didn’t think Wilder was trying to nail Pryor. Even when Lemon and Matthieu were dressed in drag, I didn’t think they secretly lusted for one another. But there’s something weird in “22 Jump Street.” It contains an underlying message: If two men work together closely, everyone will immediately think they’re secretly crushing on one another.
There’s a lot of effort made to combat the insensitivity associated with such jokes and to make the leads seem evolved. The film even addresses the hurtful nature of homophobic slurs. They want to have their cake and eat it, too; however, you can’t manufacture comedy around the closeness of the male leads’ relationship and still try to pretend you’re above gay jokes. It’s a minor quip from a movie working very hard to please everybody. Still, it nagged me even after I left the theater.
No matter how “in” on the joke it is, the redundancy gets old. The idea everyone is aware they’re in a sequel amuses, but it doesn’t excuse every single recycled gag. It’s fun going along for the ride again, and there’s some good bench play from Ice Cube who works with perpetual anger like other artists work with oils or clay.
“22 Jump Street” is a worthy sequel that is a little too pleased with itself. There are plenty of laughs, some great effort expended by the leads, and an inspired credit sequence that might be funnier than the first two films combined. It lets the audience know the obvious: “22 Jump Street” is worth the ride, but the franchise has probably used up every last ounce of fuel.
22 Jump Street
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller